Thursday, November 8, 2012

On the Election: What Have We Learned?

On Tuesday, the cynic may say, the American voted for the party of “I can’t” and against the party of “I won’t.” So, in the months to come, when the post-election giddiness has worn off, President Obama will be proposing legislation that the Republican House of Representatives will obstruct at every turn. Don’t expect this to change. 

Some disturbing turns of phrase have entered the political discourse. Paul Ryan’s vision of society, in which the interests of “makers” and “takers” are perpetually at odds, was revealed. The sentiment, aped from Ayn Rand, was taken up with relish by the punditry at Fox News. And Mr. Romney evidently believes that the percentage of “takers” hovers at around 47% of all Americans.  The Fox pundits, along with Hannity and Limbaugh, believe that Americans are a nation of children, eager to vote for the parent who offers them the most candy. 

It may also be said that the party of “we” prevailed over the party of “us and them.” When Mr. Romney spoke of the middle class, he used the word “them,” and in doing so, betrayed his aristocratic colors. As his wife went about the business of dressage, the Romney family took on the appearance of a time-lost relic of an era of country squires and fox hunts. 

So, on a certain level, it was encouraging to see President Obama prevail, simply because his victory is a repudiation of the divided and classist vision of society extolled by his opponent. Many of us want to believe that he advocates on behalf of the struggling masses of Americans. 

But we cannot afford the luxury of wishful thinking. The Founders, as they braced themselves for the War of Independence, could have soothed their anger by believing that King George III might someday find mercy in his heart toward the British subjects residing in the American colonies. Or, they might have held out the hope that his successor would be more generous. The Founders could have listened to the Tories among them. But the Founders were wise, and they know that greed does not relent. Greed is like a shark that scents blood in the water. And it is we, the American people, who are bleeding.
The Ship of State

President Obama’s true motives may remain forever hidden from us. We can only surmise, based on observations. He wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but failed to do so during his first term. 

But we must also remind ourselves that the issue of taxation is a red herring. Raising taxes on the wealthy is satisfying for those of us who suspect that the wealthy are benefiting too much at our expense. However, raising taxes will not reduce the national debt, nor even slow down its increase. Knowing this, it is reasonable to be suspicious of President Obama if this is his only suggestion for addressing America’s insufficient revenue. Because we all know why the revenue is insufficient; it is because jobs are being sent to China and Mexico and other low-wage countries. And President Obama has not championed a plan to end this practice, a practice that will certainly doom American prosperity forever. If nothing is done, America will someday be counted among those low-wage countries.

In fact, the problem is not that taxes are too low, the problem is that too few Americans have the opportunity to pay taxes; they are instead left unemployed, struggling to remain housed and to feed their children, living from paycheck to paycheck, unable to put aside money for retirement, unable to earn interest on the money that they can put aside.  

I suggest that the problem is this: members of Congress rely on money donated by multinational corporations to get elected; once elected, they delight in the emoluments of office, the power, the bribes, and the foreign junkets. Members of Congress share their easy fortunes with Supreme Court justices. They buy the loyalty of voters by means of lavish gifts. And there is very little an honest American can do to ensure that a public-spirited and virtuous individual find his or her way into Congress. 

One reason for this is that the two-party system is a conduit that channels money into the pockets of members of Congress who are most pliable and most eager to maintain the status quo, and honest members of Congress will rarely be seated on a powerful committee. A second reason, it must be admitted, is that the voters are ill-informed and many have become accepting of and beholden to the culture of corruption. I was ashamed for the people of Tennessee, who re-elected Robert Corker, the very man who shocked the nation by publicly fellating JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon (source).
The two problems are interrelated. The two-party system is not only a conduit for corporate money; it also amplifies the power of ignorant, venal voters who are willing to cast ballots for men such as Robert Corker.  

To understand how this works, the situation is analogous to a situation where, for example, two companies control the market in a particular community. The consumer is forced to choose between these two companies. In this scenario, the two companies do not have to compete with each other. They may decide instead to content themselves with the profits they are already enjoying. So, if one company raises its prices, the other company will do the same. If one company skimps on quality or customer service, the other will do the same. And what guarantees that the two companies each enjoy a large share of the market is the fact that they are the same: customers will tire of switching their loyalties from one to the other, and see no advantage in doing so, and in the end, each company will control close to 50% of the market. 

The situation will only change when new companies have the opportunity to enter the market. These new companies are willing to compete on price, quality, and service. And, once competition is introduced, every company will be forced to re-assess prices, quality, and service.  If there is a company that lags behind, it will be eliminated. 

As it applies to party politics, what is needed is a multi-party system, where new parties will offer genuine alternatives. Of course, the American political system is such that formidable barriers have been erected to prevent the entry of new political parties. And here is where the hard work lay, for engaged Americans who wish to take control of their futures.

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